Ark City alum leads innovation in autonomous flight

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From ALISHA CALL/Ark City USD 470 Director of Communications

At the University of Kansas, QiTao Weng, an ambitious graduate from the Arkansas City High School class of 2018, is blazing trails in computer systems and unmanned aircraft.

With a graduation date of December 2024, QiTao is nearing completion of his advanced studies at the Computer Systems Lab (KU CSL) at the University of Kansas (KU), where he’s immersed in a groundbreaking project guided by Heechul Yun, a highly-ranked associate professor in KU’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department.

Weng

QiTao is at the forefront of enhancing the intelligence of embedded real-time vision systems tailored for autonomously flying robots. These cameras don’t just capture images but adapt swiftly to changing environments – a crucial advancement for the future of urban air mobility.

Furthermore, QiTao is bridging the gap between two vital labs at the university: one focusing on computer systems like his, and the other specializing in controlling unmanned aircraft. This collaboration promises to create innovations that could revolutionize the aviation industry.

In an exciting partnership with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, they are compiling a comprehensive dataset to study how air vehicles operate in urban settings.

By connecting theoretical knowledge with real-world applications, this endeavor aims to enhance the efficiency and safety of autonomous flight systems.

“This will allow for a better understanding of the environment surrounding an aircraft,” said QiTao. “The ability to autopilot has been around for a long time but improving the actual vision of the aircraft and its ability to react quickly, is critical for creating aircraft that will fly on its own, especially in a populated urban area.”

QiTao’s journey began in his hometown of Ark City, where he cultivated a passion for technology and science through engineering and tech classes, alongside participation in programs like Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Teachers like David Stinemetze and Chris VanGilder nurtured QiTao curiosity through engaging and interactive courses.

Stinemetze said that in high school, QiTao was creative, had a thirst for knowledge, and always displayed a special talent for the sciences and engineering. He added that he always felt QiTao would choose a vocation in that area and build a distinguished career.

“I remember QiTao as a very intelligent, friendly, and industrious young man,” said Stinemetze. “His achievements so far are awesome and he is only getting started. I expect to hear great things about him in the future.”

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VanGilder added that QiTao was impressive and an extreme perfectionist.

“No matter how good something was, he was never satisfied and always looked for a way to make it better,” VanGilder said. “I imagine that’s serving him and his work very well.”

Looking ahead, QiTao is driven by a desire to blend innovation with practicality. With a strong passion for robotics, he aims to make groundbreaking contributions to research that pushes the limits of what autonomous systems can achieve. QiTao eagerly anticipates securing a full-time position and envisions himself thriving in a research role at a tech company.

Reflecting on his journey from Ark City to the forefront of technology, QiTao emphasizes the importance of curiosity in shaping his path.

“I want to encourage students back home to stay curious and embrace challenges,” he said. “There are endless possibilities out there for you to explore. Find something you’re interested in and dig in.”

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